Two-fifths of UK small businesses claim productivity increases since lockdown

As UK government mulls programme to encourage big return to the office, survey finds that commuting time has been swapped for work time as homeworkers notch up almost a month in overtime

As lockdown conditions generally loosen, UK big businesses have been challenged to seek safe office solutions as they encourage a return to the office for workers who have been at home en masse since March, but it would appear that for smaller business, lockdown has been more lucrative, with remote working driving productivity.

In the early days of lockdown, the UK’s small businesses had indicated that the prospect of working remotely for months on end was a major concern. According to research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance in April 2020, small businesses were twice as likely as larger firms to have concerns about their survival during the coronavirus period, with 21% of small firms considering the prospect of working from home indefinitely a major challenge, compared with just 15% of larger businesses.

Nearly one-third of small business respondents (31%) said they had some degree of concern, compared with 19% of larger businesses.

But now, new research from UK telco Vodafone into small business employees has revealed that 40% say they have been more productive since starting to work from home in March. And while city centres have been taking time to recover, local economies are benefiting from the rise in home working, with 25% of home workers visiting their local coffee shop or café at least once a day. 

The research, which surveyed 1,003 small business employees, also found that working from home has not hindered Brits’ productivity, with 40% of workers putting in an average of 642 extra hours, equal to 26 extra days, since lockdown began in March. Three-fifths of employees said they are working in the time they would usually be commuting, and 61% say they now don’t mind picking up tasks at any time of day.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped the working world, seemingly for the long term,” said Anne Sheehan, business director at Vodafone UK. “Workers are now contributing more where they live, and that will be a boost to local businesses during these difficult times.”

The research was published as Vodafone launched a new broadband package for small business customers. Anticipating that the UK’s five million small businesses will still need proactive support as the recovery gathers pace, the new bundle will see Vodafone give new and renewing customers who sign up for its Unlimited Business Broadband package a £125 credit (excluding VAT) to offset their broadband bill for up to six months.

Once the £125 credit has been used up, the monthly fee will revert back to the standard Unlimited Business Broadband Superfast 1 package price of £19.17 (excl VAT) per month or £22.50 (excl VAT) per month for Superfast 2.

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Vodafone is also offering its Secure Mobile Office bundle, which includes access to Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Vodafone Cloud Backup and Lookout Mobile Security for £11.60 per month (excl VAT), a saving of 20%.

Vodafone has run a number of programmes designed to help small business since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. Back in March, it implemented a new policy for those small businesses it considered most at risk within its supply chain to ensure that, for the following six months, all new orders would be paid in 15 days.

In June, it announced what it called a “rescue package” designed to help UK small businesses get through the Covid-19 crisis and return to work. This included offering SMEs its Unlimited Business Broadband bundle and Microsoft 365 Business Standard free for six months.

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